News Column

Business Q&A: Annapolis' OpenPath Products specializes in apps

July 10, 2014

THERESA DOWNS; By THERESA DOWNS Correspondent

A professor who wanted to help scientists tell their stories better was able to use an app that originated in Annapolis.

Mobile and software development firm OpenPath Products launched in 2001 and has 40 employees working out of an 11,000-square-foot facility in Annapolis. But the firm got its start in CEO Johanna Wilson's basement as it worked with clients outside of the state and country.

Wilson and chief technology officer Richard Smith, who are both graduates of St. John's College, talked to the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. about their business.

Tell me about your business and the history of its establishment.

Smith: Johanna and I had a background in working with telecom infrastructure and saw some technology coming to fruition such as text messaging. Then we had this crazy notion that maybe phones would be used for more than just calls and text messaging.

As it turned out, we were about seven years ahead of our time. It was a very difficult sell when we first started and it wasn't until the iPhone came out that people started to understand that they had this computer in their pocket -- a computer that they could do more than just make phone calls.

At that time, we were one of the world's first mobile application companies. We were also one of the first to specialize in the compatibility between different phones. We now have a very experienced Quality Assurance (QA) team that makes sure the application will work on a variety of devices, and we currently have over 1,500 to test on.

Who are your customers?

Smith: We recently helped a science professor who wanted to help scientists tell their stories a bit better. We helped him build an app to supplement his seminars and some of the books that he wrote. We work with a lot of people who want to build apps and work best when we are involved at the very beginning of the process. We prefer to be more than tech-spec guys. When we meet with a customer, we won't say that we will make the app work on all 1,500 devices. Instead, we tell the customer which devices are the top ones and then work to come up with a QA strategy.

What other kinds of customers do you have?

Wilson: We also have a lot of customers who are content providers. These are companies that have large content like movie makers and Fortune 500 companies. Historically, our customers were big game and movie companies--companies with big brands that needed to be promoted. Now it's a mixture of big companies and entrepreneurs who want to create the next big thing.

Sometimes there's a little bit of co-competition. Some people write applications and then come to us for testing. For most people, buying 50 devices for testing would not be a good business decision.

Talk about some of your experiences as you set up your business.

Smith: At the beginning, we didn't have any customers on the East Coast or even in Maryland because what we were doing was so far ahead in the industry. We had international customers and customers in California and did a lot of traveling and attended many trade shows. Being an early-adopter in this industry, nobody really quite got us.

What are the current trends in this industry?

Wilson: The definition of mobile has become broader. More devices are coming out that are capable of doing more things. Wearables are becoming popular and things are getting smaller. You also see more rounded glass and devices that are easier to wear.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to enter this field?

Smith: It used to be a very high barrier to entry because getting the tools, connections and QA process together is not easy. Today, there's a lot of room for people to play. People can write apps in their basement and there are a lot of success stories.

But when you look at the more the high-end and consultative space, it's still hard to get into. It takes a while to get the credentials of an established corporation. Fortune 500 companies want to deal with these types of companies.

How do you stay on top of this fast-paced industry?

Wilson: We have a gentleman on our staff who does research on new devices. As soon as a new device comes out, we profile it. We also have strong connections to the industry and go to a lot of trade shows.

It's important to be cognizant that change happens and you need to be ready to embrace it. If you work in this quickly changing industry, you have to know how to think about something and apply that to the next thing that you're going to pivot to.

Is there a reason you choose this area for setting up your business?

Smith: Our customers love visiting us. We take them on the boats, to the Severn Inn, Carrol's Creek, or Thomas Point lighthouse. They love coming to Annapolis. It's also nice to be near Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, not necessarily for gaining business but for our staff. This location is culturally good for our staff as some of them like to live in big cities. They want that larger city experience. This location provides variety to the staff.

If you could go back and do one thing over, what would it be?

Wilson: I don't think I would have done anything differently because everything has brought us here.

Smith: I would have bought stock in Samsung and Apple.

Theresa Downs is a marketing and outreach manager at Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

Theresa Downs is a marketing and outreach manager at Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel



Source: Capital (Annapolis, MD)


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